New coach of WNBA's Seattle Storm sees playoffs on horizon

AP

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NEW YORK (AP) Gary Kloppenburg knows he has a challenge as the Seattle Storm's new coach.

The Storm are a half-game outside the playoffs, with five of their eight games left on the road. Still, the interim head doesn't think it will take that much to get the Storm on the right path.

"We really are trying to regroup and just trying to get better in some areas that hurt us in a couple games," Kloppenburg told The Associated Press by phone Saturday. "We need to be a better rebounding team, cut down on turnovers. Things we can control. In our league one or two plays can make a difference to win a game. A lot of those close losses, if we had done a couple more things on either side of the ball better we could have won some more games."

The Storm promoted Kloppenburg on Thursday when they fired Jenny Boucek.

"It's not how you want to get a head job," Kloppenburg said.

Seattle (11-16) won Kloppenburg's first game, ending a four-game skid with a 98-89 victory over Phoenix on Saturday night.

"Any time a team is viewed as underachieving and not playing their best in the world of sports we understand it's a business," guard Sue Bird said. "That's why players are traded and that's why there are coaching changes. If asked about the shock, no because I've been around long enough to know about the business."

The Storm trail Chicago for the final playoff spot. The teams meet twice more this year, including the final day of the regular season in Chicago on Sept. 3.

The 64-year-old Kloppenburg last was a head coach in 2012-13, at Tulsa. He's spent the last few years as an assistant, with Los Angeles and Indiana before Seattle. He also was an assistant for the Storm from 2000-02 under Lin Dunn.

"I think the biggest thing I learned was communication with the players," he said of his time as an assistant. "That's the most important thing. Being honest. Being able to communicate with all your players. Have a finger on the pulse of what's happening."

The Storm have a talented roster led by Bird, reigning rookie of the year Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, but haven't jelled this year despite finishing strong last season and making the playoffs.

"I believe new leadership is needed at this time to give our team the best chance at short and long term success," Seattle Storm president and general manager Alisha Valavanis said in a statement Thursday. "I am grateful for the passion and commitment Jenny has demonstrated throughout her time with the Seattle Storm."

Seattle went 36-58 under Boucek since she appointed coach on Jan. 20, 2015. She was an assistant with the Storm before that under Brian Agler. Boucek also coached the Sacramento Monarchs from 2007-09.

Kloppenburg doesn't see the final eight games as a job audition.

"I'm a competitor and want to win, and that's the bottom line," he said. "Whatever capacity I'm in as a coach, that's my driving force. Trying to prepare your team to compete and finish games and wins. I'm not worried about my future to be honest."

___

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